DHS: Extremists used TikTok to promote Jan. 6 violence

Source: Politico | September 16, 2021 | Betsy Woodruff Swan and Mark Scott

Extremists foreign and domestic have used the video platform, DHS says. The app says it has “absolutely no place” for violence and hate.

Federal officials warned law enforcement agencies this spring that domestic extremists had used TikTok in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riots on the Capitol, including by promoting bringing guns to Washington that day, according to an internal government document — highlighting authorities’ growing concern over violent content on the video app.

In the April 19 briefing reviewed by POLITICO, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis said American extremists used the Chinese-owned social media platform to recruit people to their causes, as well as share “tactical guidance” for terrorist and criminal activities.

The analysis — shared with law enforcement agencies nationwide — comes as federal authorities and lawmakers examine the role that social media companies like TikTok played in the Capitol riots, which left five people dead.

The DHS alert shows concern that TikTok — already under scrutiny for possibly sending people’s data to China, accusations the company denies — has become a hotbed of extremist activity and that law enforcement enforcement will have to pay closer attention to a platform more associated with viral dance videos than far-right radicalism.

The transparency watchdog Property of the People obtained the document through an open records request and shared it with POLITICO. The group has been conducting a wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act-based investigation looking into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a response to POLITICO, TikTok said it is working to counter extremism. “There is absolutely no place for violent extremism or hate speech on TikTok, and we work aggressively to remove any such content and ban individuals that violate our Community Guidelines,” spokesperson Jamie Favazza said in an email.

Until now, security agencies have paid more attention to the likes of Facebook and YouTube for their roles as potential breeding grounds for hate speech and real-world violence. But as young people turn away from their parents’ social media networks to newer upstarts, these platforms like TikTok are emerging as sources of concern and potential radicalization.

DHS said that it issued the alert specifically about TikTok, in part, because of “some Homeland Security stakeholders’ limited awareness of its functionality.”

While the document shows that DHS is trying to keep up with extremists’ preferred practices and platforms, it may still be behind the curve.


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